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Speech By DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman, SINDA at SINDA's 20TH Anniversary Dinner

23 Nov 2011

President of the Republic of Singapore, and Mrs Mary Tan,

Former President Mr S R Nathan & Mrs Nathan,

Prof S Jayakumar, Former Chairman, SINDA

SINDA Board of Trustees,

Members of SINDA Executive Committee

Founding Members, Donors, Volunteers, Community Leaders,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the President and all our distinguished guests to SINDA's 20th Anniversary Dinner. Tonight we pay tribute to the many individuals who have worked with SINDA, and contributed to uplifting the Indian community and adding to Singapore&'s progress. We also commit ourselves to fresh efforts to take us forward.

2. The last twenty years, for all their ups and downs, have seen things transformed for the better.  Whether in our schools, in jobs or in the quality of homes and neighbourhoods, most Singaporeans are now better off.

3. Indian Singaporeans have shared in and contributed to this national progress. Importantly too, we have reduced the gaps in educational achievement between Indians and the national average. There is still some way to go to achieve parity between Indian students and the national average especially in Mathematics, but we have made headway in closing the gaps that we started with. SINDA and its partners have contributed to the advance, by reaching out to those who need an extra hand and complementing the work of our schools.

4. There is another, less noticed dimension in what we have achieved together. The local Indian community is now more cohesive than it was in earlier decades. There are stronger links and interactions between the various sub-ethnic groups that have long made up the diverse Indian Singaporean community. It is now much more commonplace for the business and professional elite to involve themselves in the problems of those lower down the social ladder. The philanthropic urge too is stronger.

5. SINDA and our many community bodies have worked together to promote these bonds. There is more goodwill and sense of affinity within the community, even as Indians have remained thoroughly open to the other communities and Singaporean at heart. We must build on this goodwill and openness of mind in the coming years, especially as we encourage our newer citizens to integrate fully in the community.

6. We need the full strengths of the community, with all its talents and civic energy, to make further progress.

7. The climb is now more difficult. Beyond the early gains in Indian educational performance, it becomes more challenging to close the remaining gaps against the national averages. Further, national achievement levels too have risen.

8. There also remain long-standing shortfalls in aspiration within a significant segment of the community, even as we have seen more Indians from all social backgrounds aim higher, move up and give their families pride.

9. Moving ahead therefore requires fresh thinking and approaches, and working better at existing strategies where they remain relevant. This is why SIND's Board of Trustees set up a SINDA 2020 Review Committee last year, led by Dr N Varaprasad, to do a comprehensive stock-take and to develop strategies into the future for SINDA and the Indian community.

10. The Review Committee consulted widely, with community leaders, teachers, students and parents, before drawing their conclusions. Their report was released today ('SINDA 2020: the New Momentum'), and offers significant insights and practical paths forward for our next decade.

11. The Committee's specific recommendations are varied, including a targeted and systematic approach to redressing problems in Mathematics, and intensified engagement with parents of students who are not achieving their potential.

12. However underlying the many strategies laid out in the report are three keys.

13. First, we must do more to intervene upstream, so as to prevent difficulties accumulating downstream. SINDA will seek to tackle deficits in learning and enthusiasm early in a child's life, during the preschool years and even earlier. We must also find ways to intervene proactively, together with our schools, to help youth at risk to find their strengths and persevere in education beyond their school years. Too many are not staying the course.

14. Second, at the heart of many of our strategies is the recognition that motivation drives success. Hence, while we develop specific schemes to deal directly with problems of educational underperformance, we have to work on the whole social ecosystem that influences the child or youth's motivations. Helping families develop their own aspirations for the future will be at the core of this effort. We must work within SINDA and with government and other voluntary agencies to help families gain resilience - so that children avoid getting caught in a negative cycle of low aspirations and underachievement, and can instead be part of a positive cycle of achievement.

15. Peer influences too matter for our youth. The report therefore recommends SINDA devote more effort, including the energies of our volunteers, to supporting families and youth networks, and to promoting role models who can be inspirational forces for our young.

16. But motivation is not only a matter for those who are performing poorly. Across the community and at every level, including those who are doing better, we must sustain the desire to go the extra mile, and excel.

17. The third key lies in building SINDA’s partnerships for the future. We will strengthen our links with our many partners within the Indian community, so as to maximise our collective outreach on the ground. We will also grow our pool of dedicated volunteers, who each bring talent and enthusiasm. And we will continue to work closely with our national schools and other social service organisations, so as to focus SINDA’s energies on where we can most add value.

18. We must drive the strategies set out in the report with full energy. The payoffs will not be quick or direct. But there is no gap in achievement that is permanent, and which cannot be closed through determined and collective effort. Every poor child who responds to coaching by breaking through a mental barrier and gaining confidence, and every family who responds to a caring hand by picking themselves up from difficulty, tells us what is possible.

19. Our foundations are firm. For this, I would like on behalf of the Board of Trustees to thank the founding leaders who charted SINDA's course over the first 20 years and who remain with us today. We thank too our community partners and our numerous volunteers, Indians and non-Indians, who have given time and effort on weekends or evenings to help a child or family, often over a period of years. I want to thank our donors, many of whom believe fervently in the potential for community self-improvement and have given generously to support SINDA's work. I would like finally to make special mention of SINDA's wonderful team of staff over the years - our dedicated and talented people, led by successive CEOs who have each served with distinction.

20. It is this collective initiative and compassion that remain our greatest asset as we continue the journey towards achieving SINDA's mission: 'to build a well-educated, resilient and confident community of Indian s that stands together with other communities in contributing to the progress of multi-racial Singapore'.